Posts Tagged ‘disorder’

Can we reform capitalism

June 14, 2018

This is another website’s summary of the arguments of Yorrick Blumenfeld, slightly modified. URL below.

Summary: Capitalism cannot be reformed, because its nature is destructive.

Capitalism erodes and corrupts democracy: Capitalism is fundamentally antidemocratic. Money controls Parliaments and politicians, not the other way around. Corporate money tends to buy the ability to write and engineer favourable legislation, as parties need money to campaign, and corporate sponsored think tanks decide the environment of thought. The highest bidder – which is usually a group of corporations – buys the government.

Drive to the Bottom: Capitalism pits small countries, states, and counties against each other, seeking special tax breaks and subsidies in highly wasteful “corporate welfare” programs. Capitalism seeks the lowest level of conditions for the people: cheap labour, cheap resources, cheap dumping of waste and cheap regulations.

Capitalism drives off accountability: The political strucutre of corporations shields upper level managers from accountability, while shareholders are protected from personal liability for damage done by the corporation in making the profit they share. Multinationals are not responsible to any electorate, or to governments that respect them. Corporations can always be elsewhere, when they are challenged – just as they take their profits away from where they are earned.

Capitalism’s values are insufficient: Capitalism doesn’t foster many things we value such as: ethics; controlling child labour; strict health and safety standards; reducing hours of labour; providing security for workers; preserving nature; or guaranteeing holidays and weekly breaks from labour. The market economy has failed to focus on durability and ecologically sustainable products and services, and it cannot because these count as costs, not profits. The only spiritual values capitalism can recognise are those that see money as a sign of God’s favour, demand obedience from workers, or generate sales.

It fails to serve the poor: This model underserves over three billion people. Two hundred plus years of capitalism have not brought about global prosperity or environmental balance. It has brought massive prosperity for the very wealthy. Most of the world’s current wealth is controlled by an extremely small number of people – which gives them even more power to govern in their interests alone.

Capitalism has a stability and debt accumulation problem: The supply of money is dependent on people and firms relying on loans and perpetually increasing their debt. Issuing interest requires endless economic growth to pay back the debt, which is neither in the national nor in the global interest. This inflated speculative debt drives the never-ending economic crises and bubble bursts. Without debt current capitalism would collapse. Most of the world’s monetary transactions are purely speculative: wealth is being burnt.

Corporations are subsidized and unaccountable: Capitalist companies are often heavily subsidized (including subsidized by the global ecology by making pollution and destruction an ‘externality’). They also avoid giving back to the community. For instance, corporations avoid taxes that support infrastructure fundamental to their expansion. They use shell companies, tax havens, and modern electronic transfers to shuffle capital around and evade responsibility and to avoid contributing to the life conditions they need. They are parasitic on healthy societies, which they help run down

Globalized capitalism creates local vulnerability: Globalized export-oriented high-tech capitalism undercuts national and regional self-reliance in key commodities. Heavy dependence on global supply lines for items such as food and energy creates a fragile and dangerous situation. Countries may not be able to feed themselves in the near future. Just like workers cannot be self-sufficient without jobs in capitalist organisations. Capitalism creates low resilience to crisis.

Capitalism undercuts diversity and threatens groups: It favours cultural homogenization as well as the homogenization of goods and services to advance market control and to increase profit through uniformity of production. By pushing consumerism and materialism and crushing all other value and survival systems, some would argue that capitalism inspires terrorism. At the least, undermining local conditions creates nationalisms, and fundamentalisms in response.

Capitalism ignores and destroys nature’s life support systems: Capitalism denies that the biosphere has any limits. By failing to internalize the costs of environmental pollution, and purposefully misleading people about the effects of pollution to further their profit, corporations drive a process that radically reduces planetary carrying capacity. Endless expansion of growth and destruction of resources and ecologies is destined to cause overshoot and collapse. Fisheries are over fished, land is over grazed, chemicals are pumped into the environment with little restraint or knowledge of effects, other minerals are extracted from the environment destructively with little attempt at rehabilitation. More waste clogs the land air and sea. The ‘invisible hand’ of corporate power has been destructive. Capitalism will almost certainly drive global suicide.

Other points

Capitalism destroys commons: Capitalism produces the tragedy of the commons, in which common property is consumed and destroyed by profit seeking, because the only property that can be recognised is alienable private property. Capitalism enforces the idea that people should not cooperate to restrain the business of others when it impacts on them. Common-land is simply land to be exploited, and to be destroyed or polluted in order to cheapen the cost of production, as is the air and water. All cheap or free things tend to be undervalued, unless they can be monopolised. Capitalist theorists say they can solve all our problems by turning everything, including you, into private property. Then somebody will care. But capitalist property rights also include the right to destroy ‘your’ own property. If someone owns the air, then they can pollute it without challenge. However, if no one owns the air then everyone, especially the powerful, can pollute without challenge as well. Common property is of no value, yet it is the basis of all value.

Capitalism owns the law: for the same reason it owns politics. It buys the lawmakers, and exemptions from the law, so that law favours it’s actions. Similarly because law itself is a process involving lawyers, it can buy the best lawyers and exploit the incoherencies of law, and stretch out cases for such a long time that ordinary people are rendered bankrupt, and cannot afford to challenge the wealthy – even if the wealthy do break the law. The more the law can be bought the more wealth dominates.


Ethics and Culture

April 23, 2018

Ethics is cultural, we are brought up to feel that certain things are wrong, and that we should behave in certain ways. It is also bound up with political relationships between groups – if a person is a member of our group, or someone we identify with then we are likely to treat them specially; usually (but not always) we will be more sympathetic, accept excuses, assume they are really right, be persuaded by their arguments, and so on. These seem to be matters of fact. But our responses to them are ethical.

Should ethics be cultural? Should ethics be political? This is instantly an ethical question, and thus irresolvable if my initial question as to whether any ethical propositions could exist that were not already ethical, although I suspect most people would not say ‘yes’ to either of these propositions…

it seems to me that agreement with local customs cannot be a basis for ethics. It seems to be a cop out. I would expect a an ethicist to challenge local customs. That they would be socratic in the sense of seeing whether those customs had any basis in reality or were coherent, or likely to produce the results that the holders’ intended. While arguing that ethics should produce the result it intends is another ethical statement, it seems to be one most people might agree with – although they don’t have to, its not compelling. My kind of ethicist would not be socratic in looking for a definition of the good or the just, because that leads to the unreal….

When I suggest that there is no basis for ethics which is not already ethical, I’m not suggesting that ethics is always coherent, although I may assume an ethical position that coherence is usually good. For example an ‘ethics of love’, may also generate violence, oppression and hatred (especially if it is applied via rules… but that is another argument for another time), and this may not seem compatible with its initial formulation. People with this ethics may be aware of these problems (as when Franciscans were brought into the inquisition), but these ethical people may attempt to suppress awareness of unintended consequences, in order to support their ethical systems, and produce even worse consequences and incoherencies….. And it seems ethicists might challenge that, although the challenge can always be denied.

Why is there Pollution?

March 27, 2018

Economic production demands the production of waste, as things are transformed into other things and they are transported around. The question is whether this waste is processable by the ecology in general. If the ecology it is dumped in cannot process it, or the waste is poisonous to humans or other creatures and plants then it can be called pollution.

Pollution often occurs when people do not have to take responsibility for their own waste (ie they can dump it on someone else), when dealing with waste would interfere with profit (when profit is considered particularly important or sacred), when they have technology which produces waste but don’t have technology that can process that waste into something useful or harmless, when they think of the world as infinite and able to take any amount of waste (or when they think their personal waste is trivial), or when they don’t have to take political notice of those people or ecologies harmed by the waste.

It is probable that contemporary forms of civilisation have developed because of the historical cheapness of dealing with pollution. That is that people who produced the waste largely did not worry about those who suffered the waste. Now there is so much pollution being produced that everyone is starting to be affected by it, there is more recognition that it is a problem. The Global Ecology cannot process the waste our economies emit.

It seems likely that because of our historical experience, many people in power cannot imagine a civilisation without pollution, or their own power and wealth continuing without pollution. Therefore they insist it is someone else’s problem, and that nothing should be done.

In the long term, pollution only exists because anti-pollution politics is not strong enough or is too compromised with alliance with those who produce waste.

Flux and Transformation

February 18, 2018

This is a comment inspired by a video whose URL is at the end of the post, about interconnectivity, and how the human body replaces itself, by absorption and excretion.

There are a lot of processes which demonstrate interconnectivity, however, far more importantly this argument really demonstrates the possible basis of reality is flux, change and transformation.

This is difficult to get, because the whole trend of western metaphysics is towards the idea that reality is eternal and unchanging, whether this is expressed in notions of the unchanging God, or the unchanging archetypes, or the unchanging nature of elementary particles such as atoms. All of these ideas can support interconnectivity, but it is the interconnectivity between things which do not change – at best it is about ‘flow’ of unchanging things.

This view of reality as fixed, seems to lead towards pathological behaviour, as action becomes setting up the perfect structures, the perfect reality and clinging to it. Spirituality is about clutching to peace, or growing in a particular way. Psychology can insist that we should always be happy or self-actualising or something. Politics is about holding to the structures you have pronounced to be the best – at the moment our politics seems devoted to maintaining the power of established corporations and their plutocracy rather than the survival, or gentle transformation, of the world they depend upon.

However, if reality is flux and transformation, then everything changes all the time. Furthermore, given complex systems theory, it seems that everything changes unpredictably in specific; we might be able to predict trends, but we cannot predict specific results. One of the properties specified by what we call ‘reflexivity’ is that if people think they understand the ‘systems’ they are in, then their behaviour changes and the system changes the way it works. This change may not be for the better.

In his book known as ‘metaphysics’, Aristotle points out that Plato accepted the world is flux, but insisted that real reality is fixed, because otherwise it is impossible to speak truth. If everything is constantly changing then you cannot say anything true about them, as they will have changed. Aristotle seems correct in his interpretation of Plato to me, and this is a classic example of a philosopher encountering an uncomfortable position (ie everything is flux) and deciding that because it is uncomfortable it is untrue.

There are other ways around this problem. Firstly it may not be possible to speak absolute truth, but that does not mean we cannot speak and think as accurately as we can (and that means accepting flux, misunderstanding and degrees of uncertainty). We can also speak in terms of flux, talking say of ‘patterns’ rather than structures, and temporary stasis rather than permanent equilibrium, we can give up expectations that we should know how things will turn out, and be prepared to learn from events as they happen. At the moment, if our actions produce bad results we are prone to deny this, and apply our actions more stringently and rigorously.

To reiterate, we are caught in and part of a series of largely unpredictable fluxations. However, if we think that things should be eternal and unchanging, or we think that good things should be unchanging, we attempt to imprison that flux. This generally adds to suffering and increases apparent destruction and disorder. A current example, is the refusal to deal with climate change, and the tendency in Australian and US politics of trying to accelerate and maintain fossil fuels, old styles of concrete, environmental clearing and de-naturing. This is an attempt to cling onto an old order which nowadays produces destruction, and will produce more and more suffering the longer it is clung to.

These points should be obvious to Jungians, as expectation of flux comes out of alchemy, and alchemy is the art and science of transformation. It tells us that the world is constantly transmuting, and that transmutation processes can look messy and chaotic, and that attempts to avoid the realisations of painful stages can be disastrous. It also provides symbolic guides for working with events rather than against events, or providing direction without compulsion. As such alchemy is still the radical way, and difficult for us to really approach, but it may be necessary.

Stages of social collapse….

February 2, 2018

Slightly Edited from “How societies collapse” by Umair Haque

Step one. The economy stagnates, [and social mobility declines. Largely because the elites, (religious, military, or mercantile) monopolise property, markets, and information, and control the government to protect themselves. They keep up, or increase, patterns of behavior that destroy the ecology they depend upon]. Life becomes harder and meaner for most people. The elites will deny the stagnation and destruction because, otherwise, they have admitted that they have failed, or are making things worse: in this way, a social contract and any sense of mutual obligation is broken and never gets repaired. [Note after and during the Great Depression and post WWII, there was an attempt to fix things up, because it seemed obvious that the ruling elites faced revolution if they did not.]

Step two. Ordinary people end up competing more and more viciously to maintain their living standards [as there is no means of co-operation which is allowed. Unions and other cooperative activities are broken or declared to be evil, as they could form challenges to the elites. Competition between each other and loyalty to the elite is lauded as prime virtues.]. Social bonds break and social norms begin to disintegrate.

Step three. People turn to supposed strongmen in the hope of gaining the safety democracy has failed to give them. This is the moment when decline implodes into true collapse. [Most of these ‘strongmen’ will defend the ruling elites while pretending to defend the people or the nation. People can regain valued cooperation by supporting the visible elite through patriotism, nationalism, party loyalty or religious fundamentalism. Things can feel better for some. There is hope.]

Step four. The strongest groups begin to exterminate the weaker perfectly legally. The insiders’ economic portions are kept stable by excluding, or eliminating, whole social groups altogether. [Or the dominant groups intensify application of the techniques which have given them wealth and which destroy life] This fact is kept from the people, officially — but who cannot be aware at some level?

Step five. Because the problem of stagnation is rarely solved by exterminating the weak [or destroying the ecology], the society has doomed itself to forever attempting to take its neighbouring societies harvests’ or falling apart. [In so doing, it generates enemies which can boost internal loyalty, and keep the system going until total collapse.] This is how fascism leads to atrocity, war, and mass murder.


Trump as ‘Radical’

October 10, 2017

I recently asked a person why they thought Trump was working for the benefit of the American people.

Their reply mentioned the employment figures, ending the TPP, and peace in Syria.

I have to agree that the employment figures are nice but it seems that they simply continue the trend established under Obama. So far, I have not heard any evidence which supports the idea that Trump had anything to do with the continuation of this trend or had actually increased the trend. I’d be surprised if, without any large scale legislation, the first six month’s of any president’s office did not express the last six months of their predecessor.
What policies did he implement, or actions did he perform, that have changed things in that six months? without this data it could easily be that he is riding on the results of Obama’s policies?

I won’t object to abandoning the negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership. People on the left have been arguing against the TPP for ages, as being a surrender of national sovereignty to corporate power, especially given the secret courts which would have allowed corporations to challenge wage increases, health restrictions and environmental laws as impinging on ‘free trade’. There has been massive amounts of right wing screaming against these objections. So it was good that Trump has now almost made it an orthodox position. However Clinton argued similarly, and in either case the TPP was not in force, so it was probably not yet impacting, and having only having a minor effect on the economy.

I’m certainly not sure about ceasefire in Syria. The war still seems to be going on as far as I can tell and I’ve recently been reading reports about the Russians complaining about American backed rebels. Trump may have bombed an airport, but that seems to be it, everything else seemed to be giving Putin the free hand he wanted, although Trump denounced the Syrian government as a major enemy in his speech to the UN, implying something should be done, or that he might strike again.

The idea of the ‘deep state’ and the autonomous power of the military, is now recognized by some on the right, thanks to Trump’s rhetoric. But the question remains how much of this is mere rhetoric. The general idea of the “military-industrial complex” has been part of Left orthodoxy for years (I can’t think how long Chomsky has been going on about it), so its only recently that the right has taken it onboard, even if they tend to blame Clinton rather than Bush Jr. for the wars in the middle east. However, the point is that it is the collaboration of corporations and the military that seems to be the prime problem, whereas the usual impression I get from the right is that they think that giving the corporate sector more power and money will solve the problem, which it probably won’t. I don’t know of any evidence that private military contracting has declined under Trump, and his deep commitment to boosting military spending will only increase the deep state and the bonds between government subsidy of corporations and military power.

Trump is threatening Iran and sometimes China, tearing up treaties, and threating nuclear war again (he already threatened that for the middle east during the elections). Nuclear war probably poses a reasonable threat to the safety of the American people, and his threats could increase the possibility of anticipatory strikes. He also seems to oppose disarmament or attempts to contain the spread of nukes. As far as I can tell, by his own account he appears to be continuing the mess in Iraq caused by the Bush Jr Admin ignoring all the advice they received. In March this year he said “our soldiers are fighting like never before” in Iraq and doing really well.

We shall see what wars arise in future, as the idea of combat seems appealing to him.

Mr. Trump also appears to be proposing to continue the Republican project of tax cuts and tax holidays for the wealthy, while removing health care and increasing military spending beyond its current level of excess – usually if military spending increases, the products get used. The money to pay for this spending has to come from somewhere, as so far the Laffer curve has never appeared to kick in and provide those increased tax revenues. We can guess the money will not be taken from corporate subsidy, but there is always a possibility.

Mr. Trump has also continued the Republican project of making it easier for US corporations to pollute and poison people and has abandoned an enquiry into the health effects of coal, not just because we already know coal is bad for people, but because his policies imply he just doesn’t seem to care about people’s ill health if that bad health increases profit. That he won’t tackle the elites producing climate change is to be expected. He is following the old trickle down economics always popular with the wealthy elites, and which might just help him make more as well.

Health care is one of the things the supposed master deal maker cannot apparently negotiate a deal on, even when the Republicans have spent years arguing against the Affordable Health Care Act. Now given the opportunity Trump cannot persuade them to repeal it, let alone make it better as he continues to promise – let us hope he can improve it. He did however make a deal with the Democrats on another issue, perhaps they are less prone to elitism, and they might help improve health care, if that is what he wants.

I still do not understand why a group of billionaires, (some hereditary), high corporate figures and the billionaires who have been supporting them with their media is not an elite, and one not particularly shown to be sympathetic to the people. They even behave as an elite; Trump seems to be the most expensive president in history because he want to go to his elite clubs and resorts. From what I’ve seen Trump also does not appear treat his ordinary workers that well. That there is a war in the wealth elite does not imply that either side has an interest in really supporting the people.

Indeed one of Trump’s problems as one of the hereditary wealthy seems to be that he has always been the boss. He has been able to do what he wants and fire those who disagree or give alternate advice. He is renown for the catch phrase “your fired,” and genuinely seems to have enjoyed uttering it. He has no preparation for working in a field in which he is nominally first among equals – he is part of an elite used to obedience.

We also have the Russia problem. That is not yet proven. But if Clinton had won, and the Russians had supported her covertly, and members of her team had had contacts with them during the election, and Clinton had lied about her business interests in Moscow, then we know that Republicans and the media would be screaming for her impeachment. Trump would probably be demanding her execution for treason. I personally don’t hold it likely that Putin supported Trump because he thought Trump would help the American people, or make America great again… precisely the opposite.

More on Neo-Nazis

September 5, 2017

In the thirties of last century it is possible that there were idealistic Nazis. However that was then, this is a long time afterward.

If you go to a rally carrying swastikas, then you are proclaiming and celebrating your ‘right’ to beat people up and stick them in death camps. You are looking for someone to victimize. You are not celebrating everyone’s right to exist in a civil political discourse.

Given this. Where there are Nazis it is highly probable there will be violence. If there are people prepared to engage in protective violence after they have been attacked then this is probably a good thing. Otherwise you are letting Nazis walk all over everyone. There is no even hand here.

Even handedness is just the usual righteous attempt to crush any resistance to anti-democratic movements.

What do neo-Nazis want?

August 20, 2017

Is it possible to understand what neo-nazis want from the right wing commentariat who are supporting, or excusing, them? A few things, perhaps.

1) Nazis want to be categorised as heroic victims, fighting a justified fight. Consequently those protesting against nazism (who are classified as ‘alt-left’) must have attacked them unprovoked. Even if the neo-nazis were carrying semi-automatic weapons, metal poles and the like and threatening to use them, and the opposition were not. Even if they announced they wanted to kill people in advance of the march. Even if they do kill and maim non Nazis, it is the fault of the others, or the reporting of these events is ‘fake news’. Nazi Violence is excusable while non nazi violence is bad. [The category ‘alt-left’ is useful to neo-nazis and their sympathisers as it implies that opposition to Nazis is itself a form of extremism and has little in common with mainstream US values.]

2) They want to portray their commitment to threatening others for the sin of existing or speaking, as being justified by ‘free speech’ or ‘Tradition’, so as to weaken opposition to them.

3) They want to be seen as defending American Tradition against corruption, but they are only interested in defending the authoritarian parts of that tradition, such as slavery, white supremacy, male supremacy and so on. However, they can also want to argue that the American State is corrupt because it has supported the violence they would approve of, if they did it themselves.

4) They want to categorise anyone who opposes them as corrupt and deserving to be threatened. Good and evil are white and black. So they want everything to be seen in terms of binary opposition. All members of a social category they despise are automatically evil, no matter how many counter examples they might know.

5) They want to portray all forces within the State as corrupt, except for those on their side (white and black again). Nazis want to be seen as struggling to take the State back for the people. But they do not want to challenge real power until they get that control and they attempt to gain control by intimidating non-Nazis and preventing resistance – ‘heroically’ of course.

6) They want supposedly ‘threatening’ people to despise, otherwise they have no energy. Hence they portray “whiteness” as under massive threat from people they categorise as Jews, Blacks, Mexicans and intellectuals, who don’t have that much power and who may not resist too much. They want to see despised people as a disease. They also want their opposition to attack everyone affiliated with them, even if that affiliation is fragile – as that provokes ingroup loyalty.

7) They do not want to blame unequal wealth, or corporate power, for the problems of the US, as that might be too much confrontation.

8) All you have to do to be classified as potentially good in their eyes is to be categorised as ‘white,’ however that is defined, and not support people they classify as ‘non-whites’. They want that category to have wide application and automatically give people privilege to declare others evil and attack them.

9) No matter how fractured, they want the opposition to Nazism to be portrayed as monolithic, coordinated and corrupt, as that then magnifies their own victimhood and strength.

10) One reason they flourish, is because they are going along with general Republican motifs. Everything above has been part of the Pro-Republican media campaigns for years. But this cannot be said, as orthodox Republicans who denounce them are also the enemy. They want to make this a Republican vs Democrat thing, to get ordinary Republicans to ally with them.

11) There probably are people who support some positions espoused by neo-nazis but who are not neo-nazis and will eventually become repelled by the whole worship of blood and violence. It is a strategic mistake not to recognise this possibility, and to drive these people into further alliance with Nazis. This is difficult.

12) They want Jewish people and Black people fighting over who is most threatened. After all, that weakens the opposition.

13) They don’t want to be ignored. But they will heroically smash things up until they are not ignored. So don’t bother ignoring them.

Economics and public discourse

August 6, 2017

Because there appears to be no provision for Comment on Jessica Irvine’s article in the Australian SMH today, about the benefits of economic ‘reforms’ and the decline of economics in schools along with public discourse, here it is….

It is certainly true that people often have a great ignorance of economic history and Jessica Irvine has revealed she is one of them.

Before the “great economic reforms”, even the right wing Coalition party could tend to govern on behalf of everyone, not just the wealthy corporate sector. Wages rose steadily above inflation. Social mobility was real. People born into poverty could work and make it into the middle class, something almost impossible now. Education was largely free to help the mobility and, under Whitlam, became generally available to all adults as well. People could afford houses. Homelessness was rare or voluntary. People could drop out to explore life or art or science or politics or business without fear of being disadvantaged for the rest of their lives. Strong Unions gave people security and clout. People extended their participation in government and so on.

This did cause some fear amongst the establishment; it was something to be curbed – as the ‘proper elites’ were being challenged. People who had previously been quiet about their suppression were becoming economically secure enough to make noise.

Despite Irvine’s claims, we were largely insulated from “international contagions” until the 70s oil shock when the multinational oil companies made a fortune out of crisis, and started funding free market think tanks to promote the power of their class. Since then we have suffered from overseas shocks routinely, the last major one originating in the corruption and stupidity of the dominant players in the US financial and housing market, and which penalised ordinary Americans, not them. Nowadays even the most conservative commentators wonder how we will survive a downturn in even one overseas market (China). Jobs have been exported. Manufacturing has declined. We largely cannot make our own products. Minerals are routinely given away to miners. We ignore, or even encourage ecological collapse if it makes money for the wealthy. Major financial institutions appear to continually suffer from corruption, fraud and scandals, which, before ‘reform’, were rare and penalised. Wages are no longer increasing, and the wealth of society is being redistributed back to the financial elite.

Whatever the intentions of those involved, the ‘great reforms’ have led to an economy in which Plutocracy flourishes, and the rich are nannied and treasured, while ordinary people are abandoned. It is not an improvement, and its success requires that economics is not thought about, that economic history remains distorted and that public discourse becomes trivial. Economics has to mark an ‘unconscious’, as real thinking about the subject, might lead to radical politics and the overturn of ‘free market reforms’. Ignorance is inculcated by dominance.

It is no surprise, in this situation, that real economics is not taught in high school, and it is no surprise that business studies replaces it. Business is were you get wealth and status. Business is, we are told, the important thing, the privileged thing. Naturally students are attracted to it. Naturally subjects based in dispassionate knowledge decline. That is the result of the reforms. We breakdown in an ignorance that supports power, but which leads to breakdown.

On consensus: scientific and otherwise

July 4, 2017

It is always useful to point out that scientific consensus is an agreement amongst scientists in the field about what the evidence implies. So the consensus on climate change means that by far the great majority of climate scientists are persuaded by the evidence that climate change is real and that this real climate change is humanly caused. There is also a theoretical back drop which explains how and why this climate change is occurring, and there is no obvious contradiction or failings in the theory which is leading it to be challenged. Scientists may later modify their positions if the evidence changes. However, it is unlikely they will modify their position to the extent that they argue climate change is not happening, and is not going to produce massive disruption.

We might compare this with the consensus amongst right wing people that free markets are wonderful.

There is no empirical evidence for free market theory – indeed one school of free market theory says no evidence is needed. There is no agreement amongst economists or social theorists that free markets always work or deliver what is promised by their advocates. When applied the theory does not appear to deliver the results promised. It does appear to deliver what cynics say it is meant to deliver (that is more corporate power and more plutocracy). There is no empirical or theoretical consensus. There used to be no political consensus either, Conservatives were well aware that capitalism destroyed all values and traditional social institutions that got in the way of profit. Such real conservatives are no longer common.

Yet the right insist that free markets are the fundamental truth of governance, liberty and prosperity.

Usually the problems with free market theory and its lack of acceptance by independent economists or social theorists is explained away as “left wing bias”, or even “communism” or “conspiracy”. Sometimes it is explained away by saying free market theory is never applied, but in that case we cannot know it will result in goodness when it is applied in full purity. The point is that when it is applied, in the way that it is applied, we get political situations like the present one.

A change in speech away from consensus to persuaded by the evidence, is important because in right wing speak, consensus simply means that people gathered around a table and decided on a position, usually for political reasons as in “there was a consensus amongst Republicans that Obamacare was evil” or “the general consensus amongst evangelical Christians is that the Pope is the anti-Christ” or “the consensus amongst business people is that capitalism is good”. etc.

Persuaded by the evidence takes us back to arguing about the evidence. This is more productive if people are well intentioned, and don’t keep returning to evidence which has been refuted. However in our day, people are being encouraged not to be persuaded by evidence.